This column appeared in Human Events on February 21, 2012.
For a while now, Indiana’s neighbors have been scratching their heads, wondering “how do they do it?” How have we Hoosiers become the fiscal envy of the nation? (Answer: Spend less than you take in.) How did we become so revered for education and government reform? (Answer: Focus on the student and the taxpayer, not special interests.) Now, those same neighbors are asking themselves, “How in the heck did they get a right-to-work law passed in the face of hostile opposition committed to compulsory unionism?”
The answer starts with the simple principle that “big change requires big majorities,” as Gov. Mitch Daniels likes to say. It’s not enough to have a vision for the future. Without an army of change agents standing with you, nothing will ever get done. So over the course of several election cycles, Daniels demonstrated his brand of leadership by channeling his political clout toward legislative races. In the 2010 cycle, Republicans gained a 60-40 majority in the House and a quorum proof 37-13 margin in the Senate.
Next, use a little trick we all learned in school: Do your homework. When the advocates of the status quo cite a union-funded report and use that biased report to augment their arguments, solid facts buttress your side better than just a kneejerk partisan retort.
That’s among the many reasons Hoosiers hold Daniels in such high regard. When in 2011 it became clear a lack of a right-to-work law in our state hindered our ability to compete for jobs, Daniels hit the books. He studied the issue, pored over data, talked to people around the state and country and digested all the information before drawing a final conclusion a year later.
What Daniels found
“The good news is that when Indiana gets a chance to compete for new jobs, we’re winning—two thirds of the time,” Daniels said. “But we get cut out of a third of all deals because we don’t provide workers the protection known as right to work.”
Democrats cried foul. Indiana has already been ranked by CEO Magazine, Site Selection and Area Development as one of the top six ( in the latter in the top five) states for business, the Democrats said. Ironically, in their zeal to attempt to discredit one of the main arguments for right-to-work’s necessity, Democrats inadvertently endorsed the Republican policies that helped us succeed. What they also failed to point out was that the states above Indiana on those lists—typically Texas, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia—are all right-to-work states.
But the fact that right-to-work is a proven economic development tool did little to quench the Democrats’ thirst for political shenanigans. Patience and discipline were required of the majority to get right-to-work to pass against an avalanche of misinformation.
Using rhetoric worthy of fire-breather Michael Moore, Democratic spinners called the legislation “right to work for less,” invoking the specious argument that it would decrease wages, bust unions and lead to increased instances of “injury and death” in the work place.
And yet, the needle didn’t move. Legitimate polls—not push polls—showed Hoosiers overwhelmingly supported right to work—sometimes by as much as 2-1.
So, at the behest of their special interest benefactors, Democrats decided to keep the will of the people from prevailing by skipping class. That is, rather than show up on the state House floor to do the jobs they were elected to do, Democrats prevented a two-thirds quorum by remaining holed up in the basement of the capitol complex (120 miles closer than their preferred obstructionist destination of Urbana, Ill., from a year before).
Hoosiers, having already lived through it once in 2011, were in no mood for another protracted absence. Democrats and their allies knew this and instead focused their attention on a list of goal-post-moving demands in exchange for their return to the House floor, including statewide hearings and a referendum on November’s ballot.
Finally, when none of that worked, the attacks became not only desperate, but increasingly personal.
Unions paid protesters—let’s call them performers—to pump up their numbers at the statehouse, even placing ads on Craigslist. They bused folks in from Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky and Ohio. Some of these “protesters” found themselves not only chanting and waving signs at the Statehouse, but also blowing air horns and singing original Christmas carols outside the private residences of state representatives. Protesters even showed up on the opening day of Super Bowl Village, a day meant to showcase all that Indianapolis has to offer to the world. Instead, they chose to take the selfish route, with threats to tarnish the city’s reputation by bringing the festivities to an embarrassing halt.
In the end, right to work passed because Hoosiers rewarded the defenders of freedom for their adult-like perseverance, determination and courage. The perseverance to try again where others had failed. The determination to do what was right for their fellow Hoosiers. And the courage to stand strong in the face of withering attacks from a group who insisted on acting like adolescents.
If your state seeks to join the ranks of our nation’s 23 right-to-work states, remember the lessons from the Hoosier State: Big change requires big majorities. Do your homework. Patience. Discipline. Perseverance. Determination. Courage. Follow this lesson plan and together we’ll advance the march of individual choice and freedom across our country.